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Wednesday, May 4, 2016

Monett '911' board looks for ways to save

Thursday, June 25, 2009

Ways to uphold the integrity of the City of Monett's "911" system and to save costs were explored at the quarterly meeting of city's "911" Advisory Board.

Bart Lovett, with OnPoint, a 14-year-old communications consulting company based in St. Louis, told board members the city may be paying higher costs than are necessary for its system and could be liable for errors in its database. Phone services, like AT&T, which runs the database for Monett's system, charge about $1 a year for every number in the "911" system.

It is fairly common for phone companies to put inactive numbers into a system for test purposes, Lovett said. Inactive numbers still result in charges. There are other cases, such as a big hospital or factory with direct inward dialing, that has 2,000 phones in rooms but only four lines into the building. A city could end up being billed for 2,000 numbers for a facility that essentially has only one switchboard number. Lovett said his firm "grinds" information in the database, looks for unnecessary numbers and ultimately saves the customer money.

Refinements may also be needed in a system, which Lovett can pinpoint and change with the phone companies. For example, when a "911" call comes in from the Jack Henry and Associates campus, only the main switchboard number comes up on the police station screen. Police and firemen would have to go to the switchboard operator to find the origin of the call.

Private switched automatic location identification could be installed, Lovett said, which could track calls to specific buildings and floors. Time could be saved in an emergency, he said.

Time meant life and death in a Chicago Heights incident, where a resident had a heart attack. For some reason, the family in question was missing from the city's "911" database. It took extra time to determine if the family should get service. The victim died, and his family sued the city and the phone company. Because Chicago Hieghts had made no effort to test the integrity of its database, the city was deemed fully liable for the man's death. The phone company that provided the database was absolved of any guilt.

Lovett said the Chicago Heights case remains the only example of case law he has found over "911" liability. Using it as a guide, Lovett saw value in the Monett board testing its system.

Bonnie Witt-Schulte, the dispatching supervisor for Monett, said she would very much like to see Monett's system tested, especially after the separation between the city and Barry County. All the rural 235 numbers at the beginning of 2009 were extracted from Monett's database and turned over to the county's system.

Lovett's firm also looks at surcharge collections to see that all the phone companies are contributing their share. City Administrator Dennis Pyle said several independent firms, such as McCloud and Sage, pay sales tax in Monett but have not paid into the "911" fund.

Other technologies have helped phone service evolve, perhaps ahead of the city's ability to pass along costs. Pyle recalled a case where computer and phone service can be bundled into one package through cable provider SuddenLink, which does not pay for "911" service.

Lovett said Monett's situation with Barry County intrigued him and he was interested in seeing if he could help. Jack Schulz, chairman of the "911" board, asked Lovett to tailor a proposal for Monett's system, with only 4,700 records, compared to Lovett's standard rate of $20,000 for reviewing one million records. Having recently worked on Greene County's system, Lovett said he had business in the area and would submit a proposal.

Rather than wait for the next scheduled quarterly meeting, Schulz suggested calling a special meeting when Lovett's proposal is ready for consideration.

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